Mary Cooks Butter Chicken

When my counterpart first started discussing this week's dinner plans with me, we agreed that chicken would be the most likely to yield success. It's cheap and it goes with just about everything. He recommended I start with an Indian dish known as Chicken Makhani, or Butter Chicken. I've never actually had this dish, which I think worked in my favor as I had no preconceived notions.

I found a recipe on  that looked fairly straight forward. And I followed it almost exactly.

Mis en place

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1/4 white onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste - I substituted a clove of garlic and a generous teaspoon of ground ginger.

1 teaspoon garam masala - I used hot Madras curry powder

1 teaspoon chili powder - I substituted three Thai chilis, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1 cup half-and-half

1 cup tomato puree

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 pinch salt

1 pinch black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Saute shallot and onion until soft and translucent.

So far, so good.

Shallot and onion in peanut oil

Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, 1 teaspoon garam masala (or curry), chili, cumin and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

My substitutions appeared to be working out just fine.

Add tomato puree.

Now here is where disaster struck. I found a can of tomato puree in the pantry. The label is a brand that Trinacria carries, and it's been a while since we've shopped there. As in years. Still, it never occurred to me that canned goods can go bad.

The pureed tomatoes that time forgot

Undeterred, I turned off the heat on my simmering sauce, dashed to the pantry, and found a reasonable substitution:

An unexpected substitution

And proceeded to the next step.

Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

The sauce is saved from near disaster

Stir in half-and-half and yogurt. Or in my case, labne.

In the final stage

Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the chicken:

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

1 teaspoon garam masala - again, I used hot Madras curry powder

1 pinch cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon cornstarch - I substituted potato starch and cut it in half

1/4 cup water

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.


At this point, I drained the excess oil out of the pan. I know one of the reasons why my cooking turns out dry and flavorless is my fat phobia. Really, I just couldn't take it anymore at this point.

Reduce heat, and season with 1 teaspoon garam masala and cayenne. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sauce, and simmer until liquid has reduced, and chicken is no longer pink. Stir cooked chicken into sauce.

Mix together cornstarch and water, then stir into the sauce. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

I wasn't sure about this last step but proceeded against my gut instinct. It changes the consistency of the sauce quite a bit. When my counterpart tried it, he said that the sauce is usually more liquid. If you take this step and are not pleased with the results, some milk or cream can be added to get the desired consistency.

The finished product

Overall, I was very pleased with the results. My counterpart confirmed that it ended up tasting just about right. All I can say is - I can't believe I made that.